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Born in Discord

Map of Argentina in 1816

Map of Argentina in 1815

We tend to forget the sharp birth pangs of any republic. After we approved our famed constitution, it took seventy-five years and a bloody civil war in which millions died before we could begin to act as a unified country. (Though, even now, that seems in doubt.)

In Argentina, the process took roughly as long, and not without substantial rough spots until as recently as 2002. Originally, the country was called the United Provinces of the River Plate. Then, after the Congreso de Tucumán in 1815, the land was briefly named after the congress.

But major trouble lay ahead: A long conflict between the Federalists and the Unitarians. In South America, both parties had no relation to the U.S. Federalists or the Unitarian church. In San Martín: Argentine Soldier, American Hero, John Lynch wrote:

In spite of his fanatical liberalism, [Bernardino] Rivadavia was essentially a man of peace; bowing to the opposition of provincial caudillos and porteño [Buenos Aires] Federalists, he stepped down from the presidency in July 1827 and retired to poverty and exile. He did not appreciate the changing pattern of power in Argentina. Did San Martín? The Rivadavia group consisted essentially of intellectuals, bureaucrats, professional politicians, ‘career revolutionaries’ as they have been called, who did not represent a particular economic interest or social group. His [federalist] enemies, on the other hand possessed real power; the estancieros [ranchers] formed a strong political base, rooted in the country and the cattle industry, and they wanted their profits to remain in the province instead of being absorbed into a national economy. The estancieros were the new men of the revolution; they brought a military and economic power to the federal party and soon began to seek direct political power.

If you ever want to read a damning indictment of the Federalist caudillos, I recommend you read Domingo  Faustino Sarmiento’s Facundo, about the crimes of dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas. After several periods of political exile, Sarmiento became president of Argentina from 1868 to 1874.